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NaNoWriMo: C’mon! What say we write a novel?

By Mark Saal - | Nov 1, 2016

Let’s hear it for November.

It’s the official start of the holiday season — if, indeed, you’re just naive enough to believe people wait until then to begin preparing for Christmas. Because right about now is when a couple of misguided radio stations usually start playing holiday tunes. What’s more, on Sunday, my wife caught some of our neighbors already putting up the Christmas tree in their front room.

Before Halloween, people.

Ah, but the month of November means so much more. It’s also the advent of “Movember” — sometimes referred to as No-shave November — a time when folks grow mustaches and beards for charity.

But if you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge than simply watching facial hair grow, there’s yet another event celebrated in the penultimate month of the year: NaNoWriMo.

That’s clever shorthand for National Novel Writing Month.

According to the organization’s website (nanowrimo.org), National Novel Writing Month began back in 1999. The basic idea is to encourage everyday folks like you and me to resolve to begin that Great American Novel on Nov. 1, with the goal of having 50,000 words by 11:59 p.m. Nov. 30.

Make no mistake: This is no small task. That’s 50,000 words in 30 days. And unless the calculator on my smartphone is malfunctioning, that works out to a whopping 1,666.67 words per day. (Well of COURSE they had to pick a month with only 30 days in it …)

For perspective, this column is generally in the neighborhood of 800 words, give or take. Meaning you’d need to write the equivalent of two of these columns daily, seven days a week, for the entire month of November. Personally, I have a hard enough time coming up with two a week.

In fact, I’m not sure I could even read that much copy, let alone write it. Which is what makes those who participate in NaNoWriMo heroes in my book.

“Valuing enthusiasm, determination and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel,” the organization’s website explains.

They certainly got that part right. Writing is all about those three things, with the most important part of the equation being simply sitting your butt down in front of a keyboard and making your fingers peck out a word and then a sentence and then a paragraph.

It’s how you earn the title of “writer.” You just start writing.

Of course, the NaNoWriMo group’s motto is, “The world needs your novel.” And while I will concede that the world needs many things — better Mexican restaurants, flying cars, love sweet love — your novel is not among them. Nor is mine.

But just because our novels aren’t needed doesn’t mean they’re not wanted. If there’s one thing journalism has taught me, it’s that everyone has a story. (Of course, whether those stories are worth 50,000 words is up for debate.)

At the risk of frightening you aspiring writers, let’s break down this 50,000-word goal. There are 720 hours in 30 days. Figuring you get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, that leaves only 480 conscious hours available. Then, if you’ve got a full-time job, you’re down to just 320 hours for writing.

Dividing 50,000 words by 320 hours means you’re going to need to write 156 words every hour that you’re not either asleep or at work.

Nobody said this novel stuff would be easy.

Which is why I think the idea of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days is like me deciding I’m going to start getting a little more exercise by running a marathon this coming Saturday. Recipe. For. Disaster.

Instead, why not start by walking around the block?

Declare to the world you are hereby in training for writing a novel, but start small. Simply resolve to write something every day — maybe it’s not 1,666 words, but closer to, say, 166 words. That seems doable, doesn’t it? After all, the Gettysburg Address is just 272 words.

The best part about the NaNoWriMo challenge is it demystifies the writing process. One problem with many writers is they tend to get a little too precious with their writing — it has to be perfect, it has to be just so, or they won’t even consider putting it down own paper. But cranking out nearly 1,700 words a day shifts a writer’s perspective from “has to be Shakespeare” to “has to at least make sense … sort of.”

Besides, you can always polish later.

And so, in honor of National Novel Writing Month, while I’m not committing to 1,666.67 words per day, I am committing to writing — outside of my day job — every day this month. 

You should join me.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SEMarkSaal.


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